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By CROSBIE WALSH
*Professor Walsh pioneered development studies at universities in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.
He established the Centre for Development Studies at the University of the South Pacific in Suva and has long connections with Fiji.
His blog on Fiji can be found at http://crosbiew.blogspot.com/
Government is clearly uneasy about the activities of the old political parties.
The old parties are waking from their hibernation
Meetings between SDL’s Qarase, FLP’s Chaudhry and UPP’s Beddoes with a view to presenting common or similar submissions to the Constitution Commission, and possible political cooperation leading up to and after the 2014 elections, hint at future collusion.
Given that the only thing these three parties have in common is their opposition to the Bainimarama government and their determination to restore the old status quo, Government has every reason to be concerned.
Add to this the statements by Rewa paramount chief Ro Teimumu Kepa and businesswoman Mere Samisoni, both vocal opponents of Government, that they intend to stand again for election, and we begin the see the coalescence of powerful anti-Government forces that could well derail the Constitution dialogue.
Then add the subtle silences of Cakaudrove chief Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, the retention by the Methodist Church of its old leaders, the opposition of FLP-backed trade unions, and some very powerful forces are waiting in the wings to follow the lead of the old political party leaders.
They have told
us nothing of
their plans for
This would not be too serious if any of them had shown any indication of accepting the People’s Charter, the Roadmap or, indeed, the Constitution Commission and Assembly.
They have used every opportunity to criticise Government and offered little of anything positive themselves.
They have told us nothing of their plans for Fiji’s future, and said nothing about how their methods, memberships and policies will differ from what they were before 2006.
Their sole purpose seems to be to undermine and destroy public and overseas confidence in the Government and judiciary.
They do not say which, if any, of the Government’s many decrees they support and will honour if they are returned to Parliament.
Will they support the initiatives for women, infrastructural development, rural areas, measures to help the poor and disadvantaged, an efficient public service, the Made in Fiji project, minimum wages, a media code of ethics, more diverse agricultural development, land banks, and land rent money paid directly to mataqali?
Will they truly work for a Fiji where all races are treated fairly?
Will they maintain the many new diplomatic links and the new Fiji presence in the UN forged by Ambassador Winston Thomson, and membership of the Non-Aligned Movement, or will they revert to the former Australia-New Zealand dependency?
What will they do about the Great Council of Chiefs? Will they abide with the recommendations of the Constitution Assembly?
On these and other equally important issues the old political parties have said nothing.
Government ‘wrong’ whichever way
Government is left in a quandry.
It has invited the old political parties to join the dialogue process and challenged them to announce their new policies, but other than token acceptance of one man one vote, they have persisted in petty criticism of voter registration and the Constitution Commission, and volunteered nothing new.
If Government leaves the old political parties to speak out negatively without caution, and allows them to gather strength in their ethnic strongholds, their appeals for ethnic support could win back the bigoted and less educated of their former power base.
If, on the other hand, Government demands they apply for licences to hold political meetings, and the Methodist Church not to delve in politics, it is criticised for restricting freedom of assembly.
Whichever way Government acts, it is open to criticism.
Why they should have been
The recent actions of Government and the old political parties have led me to believe the old political parties should have been deregistered in 2009 at the time of the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution.
This would be an outrageous suggestion in normal circumstances but circumstances in Fiji are far from normal.
The old political parties have shown they will do everything they can to demean and impede the dialogue process, and I think Commodore Bainimarama will do what he can to make it difficult for the old political parties to stand for election unless they become truly multi-racial.
Whatever their leaders claim, the FLP was (and is) essentially an Indo-Fijian party and the SDL an iTaukei party.
They were formed under national constitutions that no longer apply, elected under a now discredited electoral system that will not operate in 2014, and appointed by a Great Council of Chiefs that no longer exists.
Unreformed, they will always divide Fiji along racial lines.
Their deregulation would have created a “gap” through which new political parties and new, younger leaders could have emerged.
And had the old parties wished to re-form, they would have needed to start from scratch to rethink their aims and policies.
Now, they seem merely to have taken up where they left off.
Government has every reason to be worried about the re-emergence of the race-based parties.
They are increasingly well organised and their organisers are reaching out to win wide support.
If they had been deregistered they would not have had this early start, and Government, less worried about their re-emergence and the damage they would cause to the dialogue process. would have had less need to limit media and other freedoms.
This empty space or “gap” would also have allowed Government and people of all persuasions to concentrate on the positives now emerging with the Constitution Commission and preparations for elections.
Instead, we have open discord that might have been avoided.
Government could have arrested and detained Qarase, Chaudhry and Beddoes and it could have deregistered their parties.
But it did not, and now ironically a Government accused of intolerance by its opponents, has let the tolerance it is said to lack, result in the present situation where the likes of Qarase and Chaudhry continue to oppose its every move in their bid to return to power, whether or not it is in the best interests of a fairer, multi-racial Fiji.